How Cold is Too Cold for my Dog?

Brrrr! Today is going to be one of the coldest days of the year in southeast Michigan, so our pet owners need to be extra careful and vigilant. With a high of -5 and a low of -16, and windchill reliable to drop that by another 10-30 degrees, it’s got customers in our Wags to Wiskers stores wondering how cold is too cold for my dog?

To answer that, we really have to take a few factors into consideration. The Wags to Wiskers Pet Supplies hivemind is here to help you get through these super cold days, and ultimately the purpose of this pupdate is to get our southeast Michigan dog owners thinking about the combination of super cold and pet outdoor time.

Before we get started, we DO feel strongly that almost any dog can benefit from having a sweater, and as we’re sure our pet owners know, an extra layer in the winter is one of the best things you can have! So, we have 25% off all Ethical Dog Sweaters while these snows last! Stop by your local Wags to Wiskers in Ann Arbor (2425 W. Stadium Blvd, Ann Arbor, MI, 48103) or Chelsea (1192 S. Main St, Chelsea, MI, 48118) to get one fitted!

Dog Factors to Consider in the Cold

We hope it’s clear and obvious that dogs are individuals with different personalities and body types, even within breeds! All will react differently to snow, cold, ice, and everything else that appears in Michigan’s wintry mixes. Here are some dog factors to consider when wondering “how cold is too cold for my dog?”

White Samoyed in the Snow Wags to Wiskers Pet Suppleis

Coat type – Dogs with thick, double-layered coats tend to be the most cold-tolerant. Siberian Huskies, Newfoundlands, or Samoyeds that look like big fluffy clouds have evolved to love the cold. In most cases, these breeds have been developed in northern climates and may also have other anatomical, physiological or behavioral attributes that allow them to thrive when temperatures are dropping. On the other hand, dogs who have exceptionally thin coats, such as Greyhounds or Xoloitzcuintli (or Xolo) suffer the most in cold weather. We HIGHLY recommend a sweater for dogs with thin coats!

Coat color – On a clear day, black, brown, or other dark-coated dogs can absorb significant amounts of heat from sunlight, keeping them warmer in comparison to their light-coated brethren. As a human, you can feel a significant difference between the cold, winter days that are sunny versus the ones that are gray all day. On a personal note, I’ve seen my dog bask in the snow for an hour, so long as the sun is on him.

Size – Smaller dogs tend to get colder due to a larger surface area to volume ratio. What we mean is, smaller dogs get colder quicker because they have more skin through which to lose heat, in relation to the size of their insides. That might sound a little confusing, but imagine you have a blanket that barely covers you from your head to your toes versus having a thick blanket that has a couple of feet to spare when it’s on you. The latter is going to keep you warmer right? By the same principle, small dogs get colder more readily than large dogs.

Weight – Body fat is a good insulator. Thinner dogs tend to get colder quicker than do their heftier counterparts. That said, the health risks of being overweight far outweigh any benefits, so don’t fatten up your dogs during the winter months in a misguided attempt to protect them from the cold! Dogs tend to get less exercise as it is in the winter, but if you’re looking for some good activities for you and your fur family, check out our past pupdate on 5 fun winter activities for dogs!

Conditioning – We’ve all experienced this one. Fifty degrees feels quite chilly in October, but after a long, cold winter, a fifty degree day in April can make us break out the shorts and t-shirts. Dogs who are used to cold temperatures handle them much better than do pets who aren’t.

Age and Health – The very young, the very old, and the sick are not as able to regulate their body temperatures in comparison to healthy dogs in the prime of their lives, and they therefore need greater protection from the cold.

Environmental Factors to Consider

Temperature is not the be-all end-all factor, although it is important. Our southeast Michigan pet owners that walk their dogs before the sun rises understand the power of windchill and the warmth the sun can give off.

Windchill – A brisk breeze can quickly cut through a dog’s coat and greatly decreases its ability to insulate and protect against cold temperatures. Just like with humans, layers and activity help dissipate the effects of windchill.

Dampness – Some dogs have fur that repels wetness, while others go from fluffy to wet rat in a moment. Be wary of rain, wet snow, going for a swim, puddles, or even heavy fog. Any form of dampness that soaks through the fur can quickly chill a dog even if the air temperature is not all that cold, and in these cases keep a close eye on their extremities, such as toes, ear tips, and tail, and nose.

Cloud cover – Cloudy days tend to feel colder than do sunny days since dogs can’t soak up the sun and warm themselves. Similarly, if your dog is outside before or after the sun rises and sets, they’ll feel the cold more acutely.

Activity – If dogs are going to be very active while outside, they may generate enough extra body heat to keep them comfortable even if the temperature is quite low.

Cold Temperature Guidelines for Dogs

In general, cold temperatures should not become a problem for most dogs until they fall below 45° F, at which point some cold-averse dogs might begin to feel uncomfortable. When temperatures fall below 32° F, owners of small breed dogs, dogs with thin coats, and/or very young, old or sick dogs should pay close attention to their pet’s well-being. Once temperatures drop under 20° F, all owners need to be aware that their dogs could potentially develop cold-associated health problems like hypothermia and frostbite. In southeast Michigan, we are looking at temperatures well below 0° F with windchill, so please please PLEASE be careful! Also be mindful that cell phones refuse to work in deep cold, so be extra careful not to stray too far from home in weather like this.

The best way to monitor dogs when it’s cold is to keep a close eye on their behavior. If you notice your dog shivering, acting anxious, whining, slowing down, searching out warm locations or holding up one or more paws, it’s time to head inside.